February is winding down, so that means that a whole bunch of people are either pumping their fists in triumph for making progress on their New Year’s Resolutions or slumping in despair. Now I’m well aware plenty of people make resolutions that don’t have anything to do with their weight or how healthy they’re eating, but I’m going to focus on all those people who set goals related to the scale or their diet.
Unfortunately, this chart is a fairly accurate representation of many individual’s gym habits:
I went on a walk recently with a very fit friend who is in on the wellness committee at her place of work. The committee scheduled an Insanity sweat session during work hours, and she decided to pop in to squeeze in a workout as well as to show her support. Several women commented on how they were on day 20 or whatever of being insane (i.e., doing the Insanity workout) and were getting closer to completing the program. While this was admirable, my friend and I both wondered if “being insane” for a defined amount of time translated into making of real, lasting lifestyle changes. So many people decide to do a 30 Day Shred or a three-day juice cleanse as a means to an end – the end being weight loss, improved fitness, and/or better nutrition. But what happens when the 30 days are over or when you’ve cleared your inner plumbing for three days and it’s time to return to eating solid food again? Have you really changed your relationship with food and/or your body? Or are you going to revert to your old ways because no one can sustain on juice day after day or do the same workout without growing bored or hitting a plateau.
I had a friend recently ask me if I’ve ever done a juice cleanse. She was feeling icky after the holiday binge fest and was just curious about my thoughts. I told her juice cleanses or any kind of detox program just wasn’t for me. I know people who benefit from them, but to me there’s an easier, healthier and not to mention less expensive way. Many cleanses cost close to 200 bucks for a three-day supply. If you’ve noshed on too many candy conversation hearts leading up to Valentine’s Day, then just eat more spinach or other fresh, healthy food for a week or so. If you want to get fit, find an exercise you love and stick with it, but don’t be afraid to mix things up either. Don’t do anything that will make you hangry (hunger-induced anger). Know that dieting or even extreme exercising has the potential to lower your metabolic rate and can lead to weight gain and an increased set point weight in the long run.
Eat healthy, but no need to become an obsessive organic or strict Paleo. Make exercise a part of your daily life – not just a month-long duty.
There’s no instant gratification when it comes to real, lasting weight loss or health changes. Quick fixes don’t last. If you feel like you’ve been “good” all week on your diet, it might be tempting to reward yourself with cookie. As long as you’re perpetually on a diet, you can always reward yourself, right? But how about rewarding yourself now by choosing to make healthy choices? Don’t think you should put the fork down because you’re getting full; just choose to do it because you know that this is not the last supper for you. You will eat again. If you’re reading this on a glowing rectangle, then the risk of famine is pretty slim.
Don’t fall in to the trap of bartering with yourself either. If I eat only salad today or if I successfully complete a juice cleanse, then I can bake cookies and eat spoonfuls of the gooey dough tomorrow. Then again, there’s nothing wrong with eating some junk now and then, especially if you eat healthy the majority of the time.
Your “reward” for eating a salad is a more balanced diet, hopefully better health, more energy, and even deliciousness, too. A salad can be tasty. I am in love with this dressing right now. I toss a salad of baby kale or spinach (or a blend of both), add some chickpeas for protein, and a little extra feta and then add the dressing. Yum!
So many of us fall into the trap of extreme deprivation because we want to meet goals that have more to do with being skinny than being healthy. I knew a lovely, young woman who worked very hard to be a fit bride. Well, the morning after her wedding, she filled her plate with cake for breakfast. “It feels so good to eat again!” she announced gleefully. Her father, a man who exercised and ate well all of the time, sighed and whispered to me that he wished that she would just take care of herself because that’s what she deserved. She was so beautiful at any size; it wasn’t about the cake. In fact, you can have your cake and eat it too, even if you’re a bride-to-be. It’s better to eat cake occasionally than swear it off completely for several months only to binge again when you meet some self-imposed goal (be thinner on your wedding day; look good at your reunion; drop the baby weight quickly; slim down before your beach vacation).
Why not start a weight training program or eat a few less sweets because you want to live a long, happy life with your beloved not because you just want to look good on your wedding day and then revert to unhealthy eating habits as soon as you say, “I do!”?
I hate to see so many people suffering right now, berating themselves for failing to meet their Holy Grail of weight loss goals yet another year. It’s only February, people. There’s plenty of time to make changes, but it will take time. It will take patience with yourself. It will take do-overs. Decide this very moment to take baby steps in the right direction toward health and wholeness – not because this will make you a better person or more lovable but because you love yourself enough to care for your body. There’s no need to go all hangry on me, to deny yourself of the pleasures of eating real, delicious food. I used to restrict my calories or make myself throw-up as a penance to make up for my unworthiness. My anorexia, bulimia, and obsession with food ultimately hinged upon a lack of self-love.
We need to make changes and goals of out of love, not out of fear. We can’t decide to diet because we think that if we stay at our miserable weight, no one will love us or we won’t be successful or a good person. Your weight does not make you good or bad. We can’t decide to exercise as way of atonement to make up for what we ate or who we are. Who we are is not what we do or how much we weigh or how we look.
Learn to eat as a non-dieter. Five carrot sticks for a snack is for a dieter. Ten carrot sticks dipped in a healthy serving of hummus is the snack of a non-dieter. Exercise as someone who loves her body rather than someone who is just trying to change her shape. Your shape will change if you continue to exercise, but if you treat fitness like boot camp and just want to push through a few hard weeks of sweating and grunting, you won’t learn to love the way being active makes you feel.
I’ll stop my sermonizing now. I don’t have all the answers. I do have plenty of days where I still struggle to love my body and to eat the right foods and to not turn running into yet another way to see how I measure up against the world. But I’m working on it. Every day I am working on it and trying to remember that my past missteps do not rob me of the hope of future success, happiness, and peace.
We are all cracked temples. We’re desperately afraid of showing our brokenness. We turn to food, our appearance, and our weight and other things too like success or drugs and alcohol as scapegoats for all that we fear and despise about ourselves. Or we use them excuses to be miserable. I drink alcohol because my life sucks. I fill myself with food because I feel so empty. The worse we feel about ourselves or our lives, the more reason (we think) we have to despair and continue down a path of self-destruction.
We feel like failures when we don’t do very well with our resolutions. Alternatively, we feel like sovereign rulers when we do meet our goals. Our body image, our weight, and food become a black hole and suck the life out of us. But once we accept that we aren’t perfect and never will be and that our worth doesn’t hinge upon perfection, we can move forward. A juice cleanse isn’t a form of detox. You may sit on the toilet more than usual. You may drop a few pounds. But it’s not going to get rid of what’s really bothering you at your core. A 30-day workout plan isn’t going to transform you. It may give your more muscles and give you a temporary high, but it’s not going to reshape that aching heart of yours. Start on the inside first. Accept yourself and your brokenness because it’s only in those fractures that the light within us can be revealed.
All the New Year’s resolution headlines seem to revolve around making a better you. Maybe you could benefit from eating more produce and less fried food. Maybe life would be better if you had more energy because you started exercising and sleeping more. But you don’t need to be better. You’re fine just the way you are and until you start believing it, it’s going to be very tough to make long-lasting, real changes.